Saturday, December 13, 2014

MSD ups efforts to detect sole parent benefit abuse

We all know there are plenty of people pulling a single parent benefit who have partners. Anecdotal evidence aside, there are two data sources pointing to this.

One is the Growing up in NZ study, which I wrote about here but it gets quite complicated.

The second is more straight forward. It's revealed in a passage from Child Poverty in New Zealand, by Simon Chapple and Jonathon Boston:

"Work undertaken at the Department of Labour and based on matching Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS) and administrative welfare records indicated, firstly, that in 2011 about 10 per cent of people whose welfare records showed that they were receiving an unemployment benefit reported to the HLFS that they were actually in full-time employment (i.e., working at least thirty hours a week), and hence were ineligible for the benefit; secondly, that more than one-third of people on an unemployment benefit self-reported as not actively seeking work – and one in five expressed no intention to seek work in the coming year; and, thirdly, that about 10 per cent of people whose welfare records showed that they were receiving a DPB reported being partnered or living as married."

(After an MBIE refusal to release the paper to me, the matter currently sits with the Ombudsman).

Back in October I blogged about a trial mentioned in the MSD Annual Report.

I have asked for more information under the OIA. On Thursday some data was released to me.

The trial is conducted on Sole Parent Support (SPS) beneficiaries because this is the only benefit that has 'relationship status' as a requirement for eligibility. The participants were those who had been on SPS for 20 weeks. A national group was selected, and a regional group covering Taranaki, Waikato and Wellington. Naturally a control group (which received no follow-up intervention) was also  selected.

Here are the early results. I have included the part of the letter that describes the outcomes. In a nutshell those beneficiaries left alone were the most likely to remain on a benefit. When Integrity Services (benefit fraud control) conducted the follow-up interview in the regions, 10.3% were off the benefit 42 days after allocation to the trial; another 1.9% were moved to another benefit (which might indicate a relationship was established and different benefit entitlement applied.)

The 10.3% is remarkably similar to the findings after matching HLFS data and WINZ records referred to above.

There is however every chance the real incidence is higher. I say that because the trial only covered people who had been on SPS for 20 weeks. I suspect the likelihood of having an undeclared partner grows with time rather than decreases but I may be wrong.

Of course, it'd be easy enough to find out. Run follow-up interventions regularly across various cohorts. Though note that under the table the Ministry writes, "Results from the Follow-up Intervention trial continue to be analysed to inform decisions about whether engaging Sole Parents at a certain point in time should be rolled into normal business practice."

Looks like a no-brainer to me.

Two other fraud initiatives referred to in a further document release include ensuring clients understand the definition of a de facto relationship using a brochure and on-line tool; and, in some cases, asking applicants for a third party that can confirm their relationship status (apparently the current Australian approach.)


Quite. It is not for lifestylers who produce meal ticket children because they can't be bothered supporting themselves.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Accommodation Supplement - what's going on?

 Some OIA responses leave me more in the dark than prior.

The ex Minister for Social Development issued a press release in May this year entitled Helping more families into rental housing.

Today’s Budget announcement provides funding for MSD’s new functions as well as new money to encourage people who can to move to alternate accommodation.
“Some people may struggle to move to alternative social housing because of upfront costs such as bond, letting fees and moving costs, or because landlords perceive them as risky tenants,” Mrs Bennett says.
“A new housing support package totalling $8 million over four years will deliver a range of assistance to support people to overcome these barriers. It will also help those who, with a little assistance, could manage private accommodation.”
This new assistance will be available from July 2014, and will be available only to households likely to be able to maintain independent housing.
I wanted to know if this meant an increase in accommodation supplement for some people.

So I wrote to MSD asking:

1/ Since July 2014 what is the single highest weekly accommodation supplement paid?

2/ What region was it paid in?

3/ What was the average accommodation supplement paid in the 
period July 1 - October 31, 2014?

4/ What was the average accommodation supplement paid in the 
period July 1 - October 31, 2013?

5/ What is the maximum amount available in accommodation supplement currently?

6/ What was the maximum amount available in accommodation 
supplement prior to July 2014?
Yesterday I received their response. Initially I was pleasantly surprised because they actually managed to get a response to me within the required time frame - or at least the month.

But essentially I am none the wiser for it.

I didn't get the answers to 3 and 4.  Table One data (based on individuals and a snapshot of the week at the end of the quarter) shows no lift in the average accommodation supplement paid between June 2014 and Sept 2014. However I find it quite surprising that there is no variation in the average amount paid over each of the periods provided. And I have to assume that Table Two (current at April 2014) is the answer to questions 5 and 6 and still applicable now. I must also assume that Table Two is the answer to questions 1 and 2 and no-one is paid above the published highest available rate. But a  little more thinking on this has made me remember that the Temporary Additional Support benefit can be used to cover
  • accommodation costs not covered by the Accommodation Supplement

And is available for up to 13 weeks but can be reapplied for after 13 weeks if there is an "ongoing deficiency of income". Not so temporary.

The most recent statistics I can find show a big jump in numbers receiving this benefit between 2008 and 2012

table TS.4: Financial assistance paid to clients granted Temporary Additional Support or
a Special Benefit
Financial assistance paid when Temporary Additional Support or Special Benefit granted Clients granted Temporary Additional Support or a Special Benefit1,2
2007/2008 2008/2009 2009/2010 2010/2011 2011/2012
Unemployment Benefits 10,066 26,502 47,178 46,401 44,227
Domestic Purposes Benefits 42,071 70,125 88,436 89,121 89,113
Sickness Benefits 28,135 44,139 56,669 57,219 59,224
Invalid’s Benefit 17,498 27,863 33,228 34,952 37,372
Other main benefits3 5,665 9,417 11,223 11,955 12,895
New Zealand Superannuation or
Veteran’s Pension
3,058 6,496 8,908 10,099 11,452
None of the above assistance4 10,783 16,842 20,370 19,767 19,406
Total 117,276 201,384 266,012 269,514 273,689

What I am trying to establish is, are WINZ/MSD  providing more assistance with housing costs but doing it quietly to reduce the risk that landlords will react and push up rents?

Finally I asked

7/ What policy advice regarding the accommodation supplement has been 
provided by the "expert group" referred to in the Six Monthly Report of the 
Ministerial Committee on Poverty 
MSD acknowledges that a document exists but has refused to release it on the basis that " is under active consideration. The release of this information is likely to prejudice the quality of information received and the wider public interest of effective government would not be served." 

 Anyone want to translate that for me?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

ACT still has the capacity to excite me

Alf Grumble has a post that is possibly satirical. Possibly deadly serious. Who knows with Alf and his 'constituents'. But good satire keeps the reader guessing. It's called,

Seymour should ask how many more votes ACT might get if it wasn’t so precious about corporate handouts

Alf  is apparently riled about David Seymour asking parliamentary questions regarding National hand-outs to business.

Yes. Seymour really did.

Businesses—Financial Support from Government 10. DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Minister for Economic Development: Is he concerned at the scale of corporate welfare in New Zealand under this Government; if not, why not?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): I am always concerned about the scale and effectiveness of Government expenditure that I am involved in as a Minister, and in ensuring it is well spent. However, I do reject the rather pejorative term that was used in the member’s question.
David Seymour: Given that the Government has, among other things, invested in research and development, rugby games, railways, and yacht races, can he define anything that is outside the role of Government, or does he agree with former Prime Minister Helen Clark that the role of Government is whatever the Government defines it to be?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, there are a lot of things in life that the Government would prefer not to be involved in, but, nevertheless, the Government does have to balance economic and social considerations and so on. One of the examples that the member raises is the issue of research and development. I should think that that is a very important issue for New Zealand. Other members in this House spend quite a lot of time talking about the need to diversify the New Zealand economy. I (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) happen to agree, and, as a result, this Government invests hugely alongside firms in building research and development innovation to ensure that businesses do diversify and that we get strong new industries like information and communications technology and high-tech manufacturing, which are actually growing very strongly in New Zealand now.
David Seymour: Supplementary.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, the member has two supplementary questions today and he has used those two supplementary questions.
If  'corporate welfare' is a "pejorative term" then so too must  'social welfare' be.

I said it before about Seymour. GUTS.

American Blacks and Maori - the striking commonality

First a cut and paste from NCPA:

The Rise in Single Motherhood Since 1965

December 10, 2014
In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan caused a stir when he reported on the growing number of black children being born to single mothers and growing up without a father in the home, contending that the trend towards fatherless families would reduce those children's chances of succeeding academically and economically.
Has that held true? Princeton University professor Sara McLanahan and Christopher Jencks, professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, write that Moynihan's assessment of the changing structure of black families was right on target:
  • In 1965, 25 percent of black children and 5 percent of white children lived in families with a single mother.
  • Since 2003, around 50 percent of black children have been raised by unmarried mothers. The comparable rate for whites has sat around 18 to 20 percent since the mid-1990s.
  • In 1960, just 5 percent of births were to unmarried mothers. That number had reached 41 percent for all races by 2010 and had reached 72 percent for blacks by 2010.
McLanahan and Jencks note that nature of single motherhood has changed drastically over the last 50 years:
  • Single mothers today are far less likely ever to have been married than the single mothers of the past; in 1960, 95 percent of single mothers had actually been married at some point in the past. Today, only 50 percent of single mothers had been married previously.
  • Mothers who have not completed college have seen the biggest rise in single-motherhood. From 1980 to 2010, the number of black children living with unmarried mothers without a high school diploma had risen from 55 to 66 percent; the number living with unmarried mothers who had not finished college had risen from 43 to 50 percent; and the number living with unmarried mothers who had graduated from college had risen from 23 to 28 percent.
The rise in single motherhood among less educated women has created economic struggles for families, as single mothers tend to have lower earnings than married mothers. McLanahan and Jencks note that families headed by unmarried mothers had a 40 percent poverty rate in 2013, compared to an 8 percent poverty rate for families headed by a married couple.
The impact of the single-motherhood trend on children has been added instability and complexity, say the authors, with the children of unmarried mothers being more likely to have half-siblings and to live with multiple adults. Before the child of an unmarried mother reaches the age of five, 61 percent of single mothers will live with a new partner, while 11 percent will live with three or more partners.
The researchers note that a child who grows up with only one of his biological parents is 40 percent less likely to graduate from high school, with the absence of a father leading to behavioral issues and delinquency. McLanahan and Jencks also note that past studies indicate the children of an absent father have less chances of becoming employed.
Source: Sara McLanahan and Christopher Jencks, "Was Moynihan Right?" Education Next, Spring 2015.

In 1968 30 percent of Maori babies were ex-nuptial.

Last year 12,985 Maori babies were born to unmarried mothers - 78 percent of all Maori babies born that year. The equivalent figure for Blacks is 72 percent.

All of the above is as relevant for Maori as it is for Black Americans. The relationship between single parenthood and poverty, welfare dependence, educational under-achievement, contact with the justice system (the PC description for delinquency) and unemployment (or unemployability) is beyond dispute.

Data extracted from NZ Statistics Infoshare

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

OECD calls for higher taxes and greater wealth redistribution

Stuff is reporting a new paper from the OECD that finds

Rising inequality has wiped a third off New Zealand's economic growth in recent decades, new international research has found.
The OECD has called for higher taxes and more redistribution of wealth to combat inequality, which it found was damaging the economic performance of most developed nations.
New Zealand's economy should have grown by nearly 44 per cent between 1990 and 2010, but a widening gap between the haves and have-nots saw it grow by only 28 per cent, according to the report.

While the OECD may be calling for "higher taxes and more redistribution of wealth" the paper says

Redistribution policies via taxes and transfers are a key tool to ensure the benefits of growth are more broadly distributed and the results suggest they need not be expected to undermine growth. But it is also important to promote equality of opportunity in access to and quality of education. This implies a focus on families with children and youths – as this is when decisions about human capital accumulation are made -- promoting employment for disadvantaged groups through active labour market policies, childcare supports and in-work benefits.

" labour market policies, childcare supports and in-work benefits."

In other words, welfare reform.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Welfare reform - is there any point?

The following argues that libertarians must never compromise in their advocacy. Arguing for reform of the welfare state is only arguing for more socialism. I can accept that. I experienced this conflict when part of the Libertarianz buteventually found in favour of gradualism - believing some change is better than none - and moved towards ACT.

I still think libertarian ideas largely fall on deaf ears but that shouldn't stop them being expressed. I just opted to argue for the politically possible. Maybe a cop out. I don't know. And some days I'm not even sure if I care any more (BTW I got rid of my welfare reform site. Couldn't afford to keep it going time or moneywise).

Is arguing for reform of the welfare state a waste of time? The current batch of reforms need to go much farther than a National government will take them but the wheels of change sometimes turn very slowly.

Anyway, this piece by  purist libertarian Jacob Hornberger is food for thought:

There is one way — and only one way — to achieve the free society: by strictly hewing to libertarian principles.
While compromising libertarian principles might seem to be a more palatable and more practical way to achieve freedom, nothing could be further from the truth.
In response to our end-of-year letter seeking people’s financial support for The Future of Freedom Foundation, a person wrote me and told me that he has no reservations whatsoever about compromising libertarian principles and embracing reform measures. He told me, therefore, that he had no intention of donating to The Future of Freedom Foundation.
My response to him was very simple: If it is reform of the welfare-warfare state that you want for your life, then go for it. But just don’t pretend that by supporting reform, you are achieving the free society. After all, if all that you’re fighting for is reform, then the most you’re going to get is reform.


Monday, December 08, 2014

How relevant is this to NZ?

The opening statement certainly is. What about the second?

Some of it sounds eerily familiar - 'skewing' for instance.

From Civitas in the UK, note the author is ex-police:
Crime is going down – officially. The trouble is that most people don’t believe it: they feel that society is becoming more crime-ridden. So what could explain the discrepancy between the claims made by politicians and the everyday experience of citizens?

In this hard-hitting expos̩, Rodger Patrick, former Chief Inspector of West Midlands Police, shows how this has come about. He unpacks the gaming behaviours of police forces under pressure from central government to reduce crime rates and increase detection rates by any means Рincluding some that are unethical and even criminal.

A Tangled Web takes the reader into the arcane world of ‘cuffing’ – making crimes disappear by refusing to believe the victims; ‘nodding’ – inducing suspects to ‘nod’ at locations where they can claim to have committed crimes that will be ‘taken into consideration’, sometimes in return for sex, drugs and alcohol; ‘stitching’, or fabricating evidence, which allows police forces to obtain convictions without ever going to court; and ‘skewing’, or concentrating resources on offences that are used as performance indicators, at the expense of time-consuming investigations into more serious crime.

Rodger Patrick cites the now considerable number of official inquiries into police forces that have uncovered evidence of these practices on such a scale, and over such a wide area, that they cannot be put down to a few ‘rotten apples’. 

He argues that the problems are organisational, and result from making the career prospects of police officers dependent on performance management techniques originally devised for the commercial sector. HMIC has long taken a relaxed view of the problem, putting a generous interpretation on evidence uncovered in its investigations, although in a small number of cases officers have had to resign or even face criminal charges.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Government costing the country

There is something wrong when the region which has the highest level of civil servants is also the region with highest median incomes. Look at the difference between Manawatu and Wellington - 29 percent. It's out of whack. A productive argicultural region should be doing better than trailing the seat of government by 29 percent. And to make matters worse, instead of the number of civil servants declining, it's growing.

It's ironic that many of the people complaining about growing inequality are the very civil servants - including MPs - gaining from it. From 2010 to 2014 Wellington - barring Taranaki - also had the fastest growing incomes.